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I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Not quite 100 percent yet: Stars place Roussel on IR

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Injuries aren’t as much of a factor for the Dallas Stars as they were, say, a month ago … but they’re still dealing with some issues.

Along with season-long or close to season-long issues of Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky, the Stars are dealing with a hobbled Stephen Johns and are down one pest in Antoine Roussel. They placed the pugnacious forward on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 20 on Monday.

Roussel’s loss might be Jason Dickinson‘s gain, at least if the forward gets a shot at some playing time. Dickinson, the 29th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, was recalled from the AHL. He’s been generating solid AHL numbers and already has a game under his belt from earlier this season.

With Cody Eakin unavailable until Dec. 29 thanks to his high-profile suspension, the Stars will be a little shorthanded early this week. Unfortunately for Dallas, it’s become a familiar feeling.

Barzal, Strome prove explosive as Canada beats Russia at World Juniors

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Dylan Strome would prefer to play for the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL right now, but he’ll have to settle for putting up big numbers for Canada at the 2017 World Juniors. So far, he’s doing just that.

Strome (third overall in 2015) and Mathew Barzal (16th pick by the New York Islanders in that same year) were big factors in Canada’s WJC-opening 5-3 win against Russia on Monday.

Strome scored two goals while Barzal was named the player of the game, collecting the game-winner as well as two assists.

Canada’s other two standouts were Tyson Jost, who enjoyed a strong first period, and the team’s power play, which generated three of their five tallies. Jost justified at least some wishful thinking among Colorado Avalanche devotees as the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

The Canadians carried much of the play early on in particular, hogging the puck and carrying a 3-1 lead into the third period.

The final frame saw the two countries trade goals with Canada ultimately coming through with that 5-3 win.

Canada might have to worry a bit about goaltending (Philadelphia Flyers prospect/48th pick from 2016 Carter Hart allowed those three goals despite just 17 shots on goal), but overall, it was a strong showing for the perennial contender.

Also, the country’s goaltending is basically meme fuel anyway.

Other games

Sweden 6, Denmark 1

Czech Republic 2, Finland 1

U.S. 6, Latvia 1. More on that game here.

Also, if you want to read up on the Flyers’ bounty of World Juniors invitees, check this post.

Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen shaken up by hit

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The 2017 World Juniors can be a catalyst for fans dreaming of future NHL impacts, but there’s also the risk that a prospect might get hurt.

Here’s hoping that Montreal Canadiens defensive prospect Noah Juulsen will avoid any significant issues after a big hit by Dallas Stars prospect Denis Gurianov. Gurianov received a two-minute penalty for the check, which put Russia shorthanded against Canada.

Some believe that Juulsen was at least partially at fault for the hit being dangerous, as he turned at an inopportune time:

Either way, Canadiens fans have to cross their fingers that this won’t be too big of an issue for Juulsen. Especially since he’s already dealt with some concussion problems.

Lightning need to make the most of upcoming home dates

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On one end of the schedule spectrum, you have teams merely looking to survive a tough stretch, with the Montreal Canadiens ranking high among them.

On the other end, you have teams that really need to thrive. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a prime example of that group.

It’s been a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of season for the Bolts, but their outlook could really change depending upon how they handle the next two weeks or so. (Or, you know, they can keep this pattern going by mixing wins and losses.)

Glance at the very promising opportunities the Lightning could enjoy:

Wednesday (Dec. 28): vs. Canadiens
Thursday (Dec. 29): vs. Maple Leafs
Saturday (Dec. 31): vs. Hurricanes
Jan. 3: vs. Jets
Jan. 5: vs. Predators
Jan. 7: at Flyers
Jan. 8: at Penguins
Jan. 12: vs. Sabres
Jan. 13: vs. Blue Jackets

That’s a five-game homestand and seven of nine games in Tampa Bay, a promising opportunity for a team that has played five more times on the road than at home so far in 2016-17.

Now, there’s no sense claiming that even a strong run would cure all of the Lightning’s ills.

For one thing, their schedule really lands itself to streaks. After all that home cooking, the Lightning face what could be a harrowing six-game road trip. Then they play four games at home, four on the road and another four at home.

With such erratic swings looming after this stretch, we may very well look back at these next couple weeks as a fork in the road for this up-and-down Lightning team.

The Canadiens ready for some bumps in the road starting this week

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Even with some recent stumbles, the Montreal Canadiens head into 2017 in a pretty strong position. Still, they’ll need to navigate some tough waters ahead.

It’s not just injuries that might prove a challenge to the Habs, either. Only the New York Islanders have enjoyed a friendlier home-to-road ratio so far in 2016-17, but that will “correct” itself in a harsh way soon.

Take a look at how the schedule breaks to end 2016 and begin 2017:

Wednesday (Dec. 28): at Lightning
Thursday (Dec. 29): at Panthers
Saturday (Dec. 31): at Penguins
Jan. 3: at Predators
Jan. 4: at Stars
Jan. 7: at Maple Leafs
Jan. 9: vs. Capitals
Jan. 11: at Jets
Jan. 12: at Wild

Considering the three back-to-back sets and the fact that they have just one home game in that bunch, there are some legitimate challenges in those couple weeks.

While there are some elements that do relieve the tension a bit – getting a break after New Year’s Eve – it’s still a pretty tough haul.

With so much focus on narratives that are a little more abstract – like chemistry – we often lose sight of the influence a schedule can have on a team’s fate, especially in a salary cap era of parity. We could learn a lot about this rendition of the Montreal Canadiens over the next two weeks.